Gurkha History

EARLY DAYS

Anglo Nepali War 1814 to 1816. Years of Gurkha incursions into Northern India led to a declaration of war on Nepal by the British East India Company in November 1814.  It was a strange war for the time, with both sides behaving honourably, controlling looting and respecting non-combatants. Technology favoured the British and terrain, the Gurkhas. A mutual respect developed, and when the war ended with the Treaty of Segauli in 1816 both sides decided that they would be better as friends rather than enemies, and from that point Gurkha regiments began to be raised as part of the East India Company’s army.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857. In 1857, some elements of the Bengal Army mutinied against the British and were joined by disaffected sections of the populace. All Gurkha units remained steadfastly loyal, with the Nasiri, Sirmoor and Kumaon battalions (later the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Gurkha Rifles) being prominent in putting the insurrection down, helped by a brigade of 9,000 soldiers of the Nepal army. The Sirmoor Battalion, alongside the 60th Rifles, was famously besieged on the ridge overlooking Delhi in Hindu Rao’s house, repelling 26 attacks in the process and suffering 327 casualties from a strength of 490.  After Delhi, the Sirmoor Battalion became the Sirmoor Rifles. As Rifle regiments did not carry colours, Queen Victoria designed a Truncheon to reward the stalwart service of The Sirmoor Battalion and replace their colours. The Queen’s Truncheon is still carried by The Royal Gurkha Rifles today. Thus the proud Rifles heritage, and elements of dress and custom of all Brigade of Gurkhas units, was born.

Frontier Wars. Throughout the 19th and early 20th Centuries the Gurkha Brigade, eventually consisting of ten regiments, each of two battalions, fought in India’s near abroad.  They fought in both Sikh Wars of 1845-46 and 1848-49, in the three Burma Wars of 1824-26, 1852 and 1885 and in all three Afghan wars of 1839-42, 1878-81 and 1919, as well as playing their part in the garrisoning of the frontiers.

First and Second World Wars and Indian Independence 1947

The First World War 1914 to 1918. Over 120,000 Gurkhas served throughout the First World War. The Indian Corps, which would serve in France and Flanders, included six Gurkha Battalions. Gurkhas were first to break the German lines at Neuve Chapelle, they fought against the Turks at Gallipoli, where they alone secured the commanding heights of Sari Bair, and also in Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia. All troops in service of the British Crown became eligible for the Victoria Cross from 1911, and the first for a Gurkha was awarded to Rifleman Kulbir Thapa on 25 September 1915 in Fauquissart, France during the Battle of Loos.

The Second World War 1939 to 1945. During the Second World War over 130,000 Gurkhas served around the world. As part of the 8th Army they took part in all the major battles in North Africa. In Italy, they distinguished themselves at Monte Cassino, in the breaking of the Gothic Line, and at Tavoleto and Medicina. In Asia, they fought in Malaya and Singapore, were part of the Chindit operations and won nine Victoria Crosses in Field Marshall Slim’s 14th Army as it recaptured Burma from the Japanese, including the Battles of Imphal, Kohima, Mogaung and Tamandu.

Indian Independence 1947. On Indian independence in 1947, the ten Gurkha regiments were divided between India and Britain. A tripartite agreement between Britain, Nepal and India laid the foundations for Gurkha terms and conditions of service. The 2nd, 6th, 7th and 10th Gurkha Rifles became part of the British Army, with the rest becoming part of the army of independent India. British Gurkhas moved their base to Malaya, with the Training Depot at Sungai Petani, Kedah. In 1952 the Gurkhas became part of the newly formed 17 Gurkha Infantry Division.

Malayan Emergency, The Brunei Revolt and the Borneo Confrontation.

After World War 2 political and military groups in Malaya sought independence from Britain. The resulting violence led to a state of Emergency that would last from 1948 to 1960. All Gurkha Rifles Regiments and nascent Corps Units were involved in the fight against the Communist insurgents, drawing upon jungle skills perfected in Burma. The end of the Malayan Emergency did not spell the end of unrest in South East Asia.

In December 1962, the Indonesian President wanted the island of Borneo under Indonesian control, so encouraged an attempt to overthrow the Sultan of Brunei. Brunei called for British aid, and 1/2 GR were flown from Singapore to crush the revolt. Indonesia announced a confrontation with Malaya, and fomented unrest in the border areas between the Indonesia and Malaya. The Borneo Confrontation lasted until 1966, and again saw Gurkhas deployed extensively in jungle operations.

Formation of the Corps Units

The first non-infantry Gurkha units were formed in 1948, coinciding with the raising of 48 Gurkha Infantry Brigade, and then from 1952 being included in 17 Gurkha Infantry Division. The division remained in Malaya until 1970, serving in the Malayan Emergency, the Brunei Revolt and in the Borneo Campaign, or Indonesian Confrontation, as it was termed.

The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers. In 1948, the Gurkha Engineering Training Squadron, Royal Engineers was formed in Malaya. This was renamed in 1951 to be 50th (Gurkha) Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers. In 1955 it was renamed again the Gurkha Engineers, before becoming the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers in 1977.

The Queen’s Gurkha Signals. In 1948 the Gurkha Signals was formed before quickly being renamed the Gurkha Royal Signals. In 1955 the name reverted to Gurkha Signals until 1977 when it became the Queen’s Gurkha Signals.

The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment. In 1958 the Gurkha Army Service Corps was raised in Malaya. In 1965 it was redesignated to become the Gurkha Transport Regiment, a name it would hold until 1992 when it became the Queen’s Own Gurkha Transport Regiment and in 1994 the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment.

Hong Kong and UK basing move

Movement to Hong Kong. With the British withdrawal from Malaysia after the successful termination of the Malayan Emergency and Confrontation in 1960, the Brigade moved its centre of gravity to Hong Kong where it would remain until shortly before Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997. Throughout this time, it was heavily involved in border patrols on the Hong Kong-China border, and all initial training was conducted in Hong Kong at the Brigade of Gurkhas Training Depot. Further operations included Cyprus in 1974, the Falklands War in 1982 and the first Gulf War in 1991.

UK Basing. From the mid-1990s the Brigade moved to the UK, in advance of Hong Kong returning to China. With the Garrison in Brunei and the Headquarters in Nepal, Britain retained a footprint in the far East. The operational tempo increased, with deployments on UN and NATO operations in The Balkans, East Timor and Sierra Leone before the Campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More recent history

Formation of The Royal Gurkha Rifles. In 1994 The Royal Gurkha Rifles were formed from the  2nd, 6th , 7th and 10th Gurkha Rifles. 2 GR and 6 GR formed the 1st Battalion, 7 GR formed the 2nd Battalion and 10 GR formed the 3rd Battalion. In 1996 2 RGR and 3 RGR were amalgamated into 2 RGR. In 2020 3 RGR reformed as a Specialised Infantry Battalion.

Band of The Brigade of Gurkhas. In 1955 the Staff Band Brigade of Gurkhas was formed. In 1970 it was amalgamated with the band of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles (which had a band rather than the Pipes and Drums of the other Gurkha regiments) to form the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas (2 GR), becoming the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas on the absorption of 2 GR into The Royal Gurkha Rifles in 1994

Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support Company. Originally clerks in Gurkha units were Indian civilians or Indian military clerks, but were replaced eventually by ‘line boys’ (sons of soldiers born in station) and Gurkhas recruited from Darjeeling in India, where standards of education and the English language were higher. As education in Nepal improved, clerks were recruited from there specifically as clerks using different recruiting standards, and were badged to the regiment in which they were employed. In 1994 all clerks were designated as being RGR, regardless of where they served, and in 1995 separate clerical recruiting was abolished and clerks were selected during recruit training from those who had the required high standard of education and strong grasp of the English language. In 2011 the Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support Company was formed as part of the Adjutant General’s Corps.

Gurkha Company. Gurkhas have always been trained separately from the rest of the British Army. Training Depot Brigade of Gurkhas was first established on 15th August 1951 in Sungai Petani, Kedah, Malaysia. The Training Depot then moved to Hong Kong in 1971. When the centre of gravity of the Brigade moved to the UK, Gurkha Training Wing was established in Queen Elizabeth Barracks, Church Crookham, Hampshire in 1994. From then on recruits were allocated to regiments during recruit training, dependent upon aptitude and the recruit’s preference. In 1999 the training company moved north and was named ‘Gurkha Company’ as part of one of the Training Battalions of the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, School of Infantry in North Yorkshire.

Gurkha Units have seen service in jungles, mountains, deserts, plains and have soldiered through snow, rain, mud, cold and heat. Adversaries have been Tribesmen, Sikhs, Malays, Afghans, Germans, Turks, Japanese, Italians, Iraqis, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Throughout their history they have served and fought to the highest of standards, and have earned a reputation for bravery, loyalty, courage and for light infantry excellence.

More detailed history of the British Army Gurkhas

The Brigade of Gurkhas Today

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The Brigade of Gurkhas is a diverse multi-cap badge organisation which includes combat, combat support and combat service support elements.

There are three Battalions of The Royal Gurkha Rifles; one in Brunei, one in 16 Air Assault Brigade in the UK and the 3rd Battalion a Specialised Infantry Battalion.

The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers is based in Maidstone, Kent as part of 36 Engineer Regiment, with an additional squadron in Catterick.

The Queen’s Gurkha Signals is based in Bramcote, Nuneaton with 30 Signal Regiment. There are independent Squadrons attached to Signals Regiments across the Army as well as detachments in Nepal and Brunei.

The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment is based in Aldershot, Hampshire with additional squadrons in Hullavington, Abingdon and Innsworth, as well as detachments spread across the breadth of the BG footprint.

The Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas is based in Folkestone, Kent with the resident UK RGR Battalion.

The Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support Company provide personnel administrative staff support to all Brigade of Gurkhas units.

The Allied Rapid Reaction Corps has a Gurkha Support Battalion based in Innsworth and is formed from five Brigade of Gurkhas cap badges.

Gurkha Company, Infantry Training Centre, Catterick provides initial phase one and two infantry training for all Gurkha Trainee Riflemen before they join their respective Brigade of Gurkhas units.

Training Support subunits are based at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the Infantry Battle School in Brecon, the Specialist Weapons School in Warminster and the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick.

Headquarters Brigade of Gurkhas is in Robertson House, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, providing oversight for all Brigade of Gurkhas units and their personnel.

The Gurkha Museum in Winchester

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The museum is located in the centre of Winchester. At the museum you can learn about Nepal, the land of the Gurkhas, absorb Nepalese cultural diversity, beliefs, dress and customs. 

The museum has something to interest people of all ages and is suitable for a family outing. 

Engaging and interactive, the museum hosts a wealth of exciting exhibits.

Visit their website